So you’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again but domestic violence is truly one of the most complicated and tragic kinds of violence and crime that we ever come across. By definition, the victim and the perpetrator know each other, usually they live together, and often they share the most important things in life together, a child, a home, an apartment, a bank account, a car. The same social set of friends. A mutually known circle of family. Often, the victim depends upon her attacker, and the attacker depends upon his victim.
Now you’re going to hear me talk about the typical victim as being a woman, and the typical attacker as being a man. The fact is, anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, and anyone can be the perpetrator. Women can attack men, we have seen that in cases in my office, of course it can happen in gay couples as well. Not all domestic violence is between intimate partners. A child can abuse a parent, and oftentimes we see this more frequently these days with adult children who are responsible for caring for elderly parents. You know we call this generation the sandwich generation, who are not just responsible for taking care of the children that they’re raising, but also for their parents who are getting elderly and require a lot more care.
The vast majority of cases of violence that get reported, that we see, are women that are being attacked by men who are their intimate partners. As I said, these cases are hard and they can be tragic. We have had a number of high profile domestic violence cases here, that just are too horrific to even talk about. But we have to talk about them, and we have to remember them. Because that’s how we’re going to get to a solution to what I do not think is hyperbole to say is an epidemic.
Now the obstacles to prosecuting domestic violence are many. One of the most common kinds is the uncooperative victim. We all know how it goes. There is an altercation, and either the victim of somebody who hears or sees something, will call the police, and when the police show up, or later on when the DA’s office calls, the victim will say nothing’s wrong, nothing happened.
Often it’s out of fear of retaliation, and I get that, we all get that. That’s understandable. Or it will be out of concern that this person helps take care of my child, or helps me pay the bills, or it’s his house or apartment that I live in. These are all understandable concerns, and they’re the reasons why it is so difficult to address this epidemic. We in government or in advocacy try our best to do just that. To address these concerns. We have all decided, as a society, and sometimes we are not vocal enough, I think we have been vocal enough on this issue, but as a society, we have all said that domestic violence is unacceptable, it’s a crime, it must not go unpunished, and victims cannot go without the help that they need, to break the cycle of violence.
When we file charges in a domestic violence case, the papers don’t say the victim’s name vs. the defendant’s name. The papers say the people of the state of New York vs. Defendant. Think about that for a second. When you’re a victim of domestic violence, you are not alone. You may feel alone, but you’re not alone. It’s not you vs. your husband, or you vs. your boyfriend, it’s all of us. Your society, your community, your fellow New Yorkers, and your fellow Americans, fighting for your safety and your protection. It’s me and the prosecutors in the DA’s office, it’s the police, it’s the court system, and it’s the social workers that are available to you. It’s organizations like Safe Center Long Island, and the Coalition against Domestic Violence.
We have a groundbreaking building in Nassau County that was developed some years ago that is called The Safe Place. It’s the first time in this county, and across the state, where you have the Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the Center against Child Abuse and Neglect, CCAN, collocated at the same place. Why is that significant? Because domestic violence issues are very often family issues. They’re not just one person versus the other. So at this location, we have prosecutors, social workers, medical doctors, psychiatrists, the police, representatives of different advocacy groups, social workers to ease the victims entry back into what we hope will be successful prosecutions and rehabilitation, and separation of the victim from their abusive situation. It is away from the main courthouse, we have domestic violence parts so that we can speak with one voice when we say that this is an issue that the system cares about, and it’s important that it be separated from every other issue. So we’re doing things here in Nassau County that are very groundbreaking but it’s still very difficult to prosecute these cases.
It’s a misconception that a perpetrator of domestic violence cannot be prosecuted if the victim refuses to testify. Christine the deputy bureau chief in Brooklyn knows as I do and my prosecutors do, that we can prosecute cases with victims that are not cooperative. They’re called evidence based prosecutions. But a lot of people don’t understand that. Too often when we come into contact with a domestic violence victim, it wouldn’t be their first time being victimized. There was a time in the past, when they did not tell anyone. The first time it happened, and then it happened again.
We prosecute the perpetrators of domestic violence, because we are working to stop them from victimizing someone again. With domestic violence, sometimes leading to the death of the victim, it literally is a matter of life and death. It’s even a matter of broader public safety. Someone who beats his wife, or tortures his elderly mother or father, we all know is very likely to commit crimes, other crimes against other victims, as well. One defendant we prosecuted recently went as far as to set off an explosion in his home, during a standoff with police. So as I said, it’s a matter of life and death, of public safety of all of us, and not something that we approach passively. We don’t want to wait until it’s too late, and my hope is that they give victims of domestic violence some confidence. That when they report something that is happening to them, that they will never be standing alone.
My office we have a special victim’s bureau that handles domestic violence and other very sensitive, and very private cases, involving people who are known to each other. We have prosecutors who specialize in domestic violence cases, we have in house social workers and victims’ advocates to help victims, we have the special domestic violence court, where victims are also given extra protection and assistance, we can issue orders of protection to help victims, and while I recognize, and I think all of us do, that an order of protection is a piece of paper, it never has been and it never will be a physical barrier, but it is legally enforceable. It is a legally enforceable barrier that has been proven to work as a deterrent.
All the time is it successful, no, we’ve all heard the horror stories when it hasn’t been, but it can act as a deterrent. Domestic violence victims also have access to financial assistance, housing relocation resources, job placement resources, medical care and other resources, thanks to federal and state grants that are designed to specifically help domestic violence victims. Technology is also used to help domestic violence victims. Whether it is something as old fashioned as alarms and panic buttons at home that notify 9-1-1 in case of an emergency. Or now that we have more advanced technology like a portable GPS based panic button, so that your direct link to 9-1-1 follows you wherever you are. Violence doesn’t always happen in the home, and that’s what this technology is geared to addressing.
You know I’ve focused on the prosecution side of addressing domestic violence, but as I mentioned, as you know from everyone here, it’s not just about punishing the bad guys, it’s about protecting victims. It’s about making them whole, and helping them live happy and productive lives, free from violence and abuse. As the district attorney, I see myself first and foremost as an advocate for victims, and an advocate for the people of the state of New York. Which is, what I said, what all of our prosecution papers say.
I admire all of the others here who focus their work even more on victims. The social workers and the advocates, our partnership is so critical in this massive effort to reduce domestic violence. And it really is an epidemic. For every instance of domestic violence that’s reported, think of how many are not. We know there are.
We have to take away the stigmas and the stereotypes to assure perpetrators that they’re going to face consequences, which is critically important, but even more important, is our need to assure the victims that they’re going to get the help that they need, and that they deserve. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a part of this entire effort. I think this is such a great program, I look forward to hearing from the other speakers, and I am just so glad for every single person who is here. Wow this place is really packed.
This is an incredible turn out. We try to do programs all the time, whether it is kids, texting, all of that, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t get a turnout like this. But President Bogner, I have to say, kudos to you, for filling this auditorium to the rafters. With obviously people who care about this issue, and I hope that each one of you leaves here, and continues to do the good work that you do, hopefully it will raise awareness for those of you who are here who just want to learn about this issue. And again, talking about this is the first step in coming to long term solutions. Thank you for having me.
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